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Do we need an apprenticeship designed for panel-builders?

14 April, 2020

In an attempt to broaden the qualification options available to prospective engineers, a group of organisations is drawing up proposals for apprenticeship specifically for panel-builders and wiremen. Nikesh Mistry*, Gambica’s sector head for industrial automation, explains the thinking behind the idea.

According to a government survey in 2018, we will need 186,000 skilled recruits every year until 2024 to reduce the skills shortage in the engineering sector. Many employers I speak to tell me that they are seeking skilled engineers but can’t seem to attract any. When the engineering sector contributes to roughly 27% of the total UK GDP, you would think that this shouldn’t be the case. 

Engineering roles are widely misconceived as a result of negative representations in the press and media. If you ask most people outside the sector what it means to be an engineer, the picture they have in their head is usually not accurate. Try searching for an image of an “engineer” on Google and it’s a struggle to find one without a person getting hands-on while wearing a hard-hat. While this type of engineer is still very much sought after, there is a whole industry outside of this imagery which can also define the working skillset of an engineer. 

What I’m getting at is that engineers are skilled workers in high demand. The lack of young people wanting to be engineers is due in part to the way the profession is misrepresented, but there is also a lack of recognised qualifications. Other than a university degree, there are few recognised qualifications for different engineering disciplines. 

Realising this, Gambica is currently involved in a proposal to develop and launch a recognised Panel Builder and Wireman apprenticeship pathway in England. At present, a bespoke scheme is not generally available for this discipline, and existing apprenticeship schemes are not tailored to meet industry’s needs.  

The North West Training Council (NWTC) is delivering an apprenticeship pathway to local panel manufacturers and system-builders which, given enough nationwide interest, could potentially be made more widely available with benefits for both manufacturers and employees.  

With the help of the ECA, Gambica and Beama have been holding meetings with NWTC, GTA England and JTL, along with several companies who are seeking skilled workers for panel-building, wiring and similar activities. 

In recent years, in the absence of a common industry apprenticeship, employers have implemented various approaches to training. Some continue to recruit apprentices; others have developed in-house training. But many others rely on informal “learning on the job”. All agree that the present situation is unsustainable, with shortages of skilled people and a lack of an industry-recognised qualification. 

Access to construction sites is a growing problem because there is an emerging requirement for formal qualifications. As part of the discussions, it has also been recognised that the Panel Builder and Wireman pathway would also need to consider specific requirements for both motor control centre manufacturers and distribution.  

Additionally, there is an option for existing experienced workers to be considered. There are many who are already competent and experienced but may not have recognised formal qualifications. This could be addressed via an experienced worker assessment process with criteria that have yet to be defined. 

From a financial perspective, the proposed apprenticeship would qualify for levy funding for employers in England who are currently paying the apprenticeship levy. Smaller firms who do not pay the levy would also be able to claim direct funding from the Government under England’s non-levy arrangements. 

At this point, this idea is very much at its teething stage, however if you agree with the concept, or perhaps feel that the development of such scheme would add value to your workforce, then please get in touch with me using the details below. Whether you’re a trade association member or not, this is a scheme designed to reach out to any company wanting to upskill their panel-builders and wiremen through a recognised qualification. An email letting me know that you, or your customers, or even someone you know, may be interested in such a scheme, would allow us to gauge interest and gain a deeper understanding of the requirement for this sort of pathway.  


* Gambica is the trade association for the automation, control, instrumentation and laboratory technology sectors in the UK.

For more information, please contact Nikesh Mistry on 020 7642 8094 or via

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